Martin Brundle has warned the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button not to underestimate returning grand prix legend Michael Schumacher in F1 2010 – as he predicts that the record-breaking legend will have lost none of his aggressive on-track nature over his three-year absence.
Schumacher's comeback with Mercedes Grand Prix this season means there will be no fewer than four world champions in the pack when the starting lights go out in Sakhir for the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix in two-and-a-half weeks' time – and, indeed, five should the rumours linking 1997 title-winner Jacques Villeneuve to the second berth at F1 2010 hopeful Stefan GP transpire to be true [see separate story – click here
Such a calibre of competition has not been seen in some years, although on paper drivers like Hamilton, Button and Alonso – who have between them clinched four of the last five crowns – as well as rising Red Bull Racing star Sebastian Vettel should have an initial advantage over the necessarily race-rusty Schumacher, who has not competed in anger since hanging up his helmet at the end of his 16th campaign in the top flight in late 2006.
With an unprecedented seven world championship trophies, 91 grand prix victories, 154 podium finishes and a staggering 1,369 points to his name, however – making him statistically the most successful driver ever to have graced the F1 grid – the threat of the Kerpen native should be taken anything but lightly, reckons Brundle, a man who knows 'Schumi' better than most having partnered him at Benetton back in 1992.
“I think we saw last summer – when he nearly raced the Ferrari – how upset he was that he couldn't come back at that time, and it obviously re-lit the fire,” the former McLaren, Ligier and Jordan ace-turned-popular BBC F1 commentator told Crash.net Radio
. “Clearly, he's gone away, as he says charged up his batteries and now he wants to come and drive again. It's good for him, and I think because he's been so fit since he was a teenager, he's able to carry that on.
“The average age was going down and down and down, and if you weren't in Formula 1 by the time you were 21 or 22 these days – like Sebastian Vettel, for example, setting a new benchmark for that kind of thing – then you were almost washed-up, and here we have a 41-year-old coming back. It'll be interesting to see if he can still cut it.
“I think he'll be aggressive enough; it's a question as to whether he needs it badly enough. He's certainly got a lot more competition in-depth than he ever had before. Normally, he was fighting only one man at any one time like Mika Hakkinen – but now he's got three or four world-class drivers around him that are going to challenge him. I think it's going to be tough for Michael – but I wouldn't underestimate him.”
In order to clinch an extraordinary eighth drivers' title, Schumacher will of course have to overcome McLaren-Mercedes' all-British duo Hamilton and Button, and his erstwhile employer Ferrari, which this year has finally succeeded in securing the services of Alonso, the only man in the 2010 field to have defeated the German to the laurels, in 2005 and 2006.
His cause might be aided, however, should Hamilton and Button and Alonso and Felipe Massa take points off each other in their fierce internecine scraps – but Brundle reckons the respective pecking order inside the two front-running teams might not take too long to establish itself.